With the financial world long obsessing over "will she or won't she"-succeed her 77-year-old father as CEO of $1.5 trillion Fidelity, that is-it's easy to forget Abigail Johnson's accomplishments and what she brings to the game right now.
The amount of attention Fidelity garners in the financial world is influence enough to wield, considering Johnson's position inside the Boston behemoth. The last round of succession speculation sparked last fall when there was a leak claiming the 46-year-old Johnson might become chairman-but not chief executive-and the scenarios flew.
Not so much attention went to her new duties in charge of fund sales to individuals and corporate-retirement services, responsibilities handed to her by the newly-hired president of FMR, Rodger Lawson, in the wake of a substantial reorganization. The 46-year-old Johnson had been running the firm's human resources business-covering health insurance administration and payroll services for Fidelity's slew of corporate clients. Whereas Fidelity before had separate units for individual and pension savings products, she would now lead both initiatives under the new banner of Personal and Workplace Investing.
There's been plenty of ink spilled over whether Johnson's job moves were lateral, up or down, especially considering she moved in 2005 from president of Fidelity's money-management unit following a weakening in sales and performance. But after that she went to run Fidelity Employer Services and assets grew at that division more than 40 percent in two-and-a-half years, to $936 billion. Potential successors to Abby's father Ned may be leaving, or staying (one big departure last year was experienced brokerage head Ellyn McCoulgan). The point is that Johnson is getting a broad executive view. "Abigail Johnson's visibility and management responsibilities have measurably increased, and precisely in the area by which most people measure Fidelity," the editor of a Fidelity watchdog newsletter told Bloomberg News at the time.
And no doubt she's needed every bit of her experience. Fidelity is the mature player in mutual funds at a time when equities are caught in endless whipsaw markets. Fidelity posted its first profit decline in four years in 2006, only to rebound by the start of this year, up 20 percent with income before taxes at $2.2 billion. But the next year will need true grit, and never mind the heirlooms.
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